Thursday, January 29, 2009

You CAN'T have "breakfast for supper"

We just had Belgian waffles for breakfast. Our family loves Belgian waffles-- it’s always a popular choice for a special breakfast. In fact, sometimes we even have them for supper.

Which many (far too many) of my friends and peers would call, “having breakfast for supper”. Which I despise so much that it makes my teeth hurt.

I don’t have very many pet-peeves, but this is one: everyone, the word “breakfast” defines a certain meal, NOT a certain food. You cannot have breakfast for supper, any more than you can have supper for lunch or lunch for a midnight snack.

Let’s think this through: why is it called “breakfast”? Because you are, literally, breaking the “fast” of not eating overnight. Thus, it is the meal that we have in the morning (or, at least, after rising from a long sleep). We understand this intuitively, because we realize that it is inappropriate to call it “breakfast” if it is too late in the morning-- then it is “brunch” (which is a mash-up of breakfast and lunch).

The only meal label that is flexible is “dinner” which simply means the largest meal of the day. Dinner can be during lunchtime, which it typically was for much of the U.S. until a couple of generations ago. Dinner can, of course, be breakfast as well. Most folks today, however, assume that “dinner” is simply a synonym for “supper” which it isn’t.

Of course, what people mean when they say, “we had breakfast for supper” is that they had foods typically eaten only at breakfast during the suppertime meal. (And by “people” there I mean Americans, as we are convinced that our cultural experiences are definitive for the rest of the world-- though in some cultures a steak or pork chop is a great breakfast, while sausages are more commonly eaten at other meals, and pancakes are snack foods, etc.) This is simply sloppy use of language; we all KNOW what they mean, but that shouldn’t excuse it.

The self-same people will think nothing of hitting IHOP for supper, and once there will decide that they can’t pass up the buttermilk pancakes. Did the day suddenly invert, and now they have awakened from their slumber to partake of breakfast? Perhaps in a poetic sense, if they want to compliment the cooks at IHOP or punctuate how pleasant it is to pass the time with their date. But I doubt it.

I realize this post puts me in the category of folks who bristle when others can’t get “its” and “it’s” straight, or when some seem confused about whether to use “their”, “there”, or “they’re”. I’m completely fine with this.

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